Learing caution in designing technology for organizations

There seem to be a whole series of great entries showing up in my aggregator around the theme of how technology interacts with the world at large (that’s the point of using RSS aggregators isn’t it?).

The more time I spend trying to mesh technology with organizations, the more cautious I become. I still believe that carefully designed and deployed technology is essential for organizations and societies that hope to survive. But that design has to factor in how human systems shape designed systems over time. One of my own design goals is to seek to channel and shape that evolution so that unintended consequences are a smaller percentage of the outcomes and that there is a higher probability that the unintened consequences are more likely to be desirable than undesirable. One important aspect of that is to be very clear in pointing out things I believe to be technologically impossible. Technology cannot be the right answer to every question.

Good and Bad Technologies.

Fred writes about Clay Shirky’s comments about good and bad technologies and freedom to innovate:

The thing that will change the future in the future is the same thing that changed the future in the past — freedom, in both its grand and narrow senses.

The narrow sense of freedom, in tech terms, is a freedom to tinker, to prod and poke and break and fix things. Good technologies — the PC, the internet, HMTL — enable this. Bad technologies — cellphones, set-top boxes — forbid it, in hardware or contract. A lot of the fights in the next 5 years are going to be between people who want this kind of freedom in their technologies vs. business people who think freedom is a shitty business model compared with control.

And none of this would matter, really, except that in a technologically mediated age, our grand freedoms — freedom of speech, of association, of the press — are based on the narrow ones. Wave after wave of world-changing technology like email and the Web and instant messaging and Napster and Kazaa have been made possible because the technological freedoms we enjoy, especially the ones instantiated in the internet.

The internet means you don’t have to convince anyone that something is a good idea before trying it, and that in turn means that you don’t need to be a huge company to change the world. Microsoft gears up the global publicity machine its launch of Windows 98, and at the same time a 19 year old kid procrastinating on his CS homework invents a way to trade MP3 files. Guess which software spread faster, and changed people’s lives more?

Simple, and so true!

[E M E R G I C . o r g]

A very accurate description of where we are going. Groups that fail to recognize this will not succeed. [A Man with a Ph.D. – Richard Gayle’s Weblog]